Thursday, September 30, 2010
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
When the Ron Mueck Sculpture show opens at Christchurch Art Gallery this Friday night, there will be plenty of astounded viewers. Mueck has an uncanny ability to create astonishingly life-like works, as you can see from these photographs that I took at his Melbourne show at the National Gallery of Victoria in February.
And it doesn't matter how many times you see the images, or how many times you stand in front of the actual sculptures, there is still a sense of wonder about them. Yet for all the realism, Mueck's distorting scale is what generates the most power I think - the gigantic man (above), the tiny, fragile doll-like old woman in bed (the most powerful and moving of all the works for me), and these two adorable old ladies standing on a plinth, hardly as big as a five-year-old. It becomes realism with a disturbing twist that you will continue to think about long after leaving the exhibition. www.christchurchartgallery.org.nz
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
In the early days after the 71. earthquake struck in Christchurch, there was a flurry of new signage in the city. I'm a big fan of signs at the best of times and in 'the worst of times' I was delighted (in a non-morbid kind of way), at the hastily-written notes that appeared all over the city. The few times I have made it out and about (between book writing commitments), I photographed a few - from the formal council signs: green for 'this building is ok', yellow for restricted use and the dreaded red for danger, to the personal signs on business doorways.
I suspect this UNEVEN SURFACE sign will have become the council's most used in recent weeks.
The one no one wanted!
And one of several signs outside churches around the city. Unfortunately, as a fan of church architecture, I'm sorry to see that Canterbury's churches have been among the hardest hit of all the historic buildings in town. Most have significant damage and several are now 'propped up' with enormous steel beams....but more on that another day.... In the meantime, I can't help but smile at the optimism of this sign, outside St Lukes I think it was, on Manchester Street. Having seen the damage to churches, even if I had an urge to pray (and I haven't yet), a church would be the very last place I'd be entering during these shaky times.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
When everything around them was collapsing with magnificent fury during the September 4th Christchurch earthquake, these little salt and pepper shakers stood firm and straight. I think it's a lovely metaphor for the people of Christchurch in the aftermath of the quake - determined battlers keeping on, despite the mayhem in their daily lives.
A couple of days ago, I read that Christchurch had had over 565 after-shocks in a ten-day period. It seems unbelievable - even from the point of view of someone sitting here experiencing shake after hideous shake. Obviously many have been indiscernable but nonetheless, it's a graphic reminder of just how very unreliable Nature has turned out to be. And I for one, have quite enough. Now it's just irritating. Take last night for instance - I was shaken awake on three separate occasions and in the haze of sleep, it's easy to wonder if it's all starting all over again.
But you only have to take a walk around the city to find plenty of reminders of how jolly lucky we people in Christchurch have been. Sure there are ruined homes and collapsed businesses but we're all still alive. And when you see sights like this car, still abandoned on Lichfield Street, that seems all the more miraculous.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
I've always had a tendency to 'absorb life' through the detail of things. The big picture, the dramatic events are always important of course, but, from a writer's point of view, it's like the difference between a front page news story that punches out the main facts (or fictions) and a much longer feature article, that digs beneath the surface to expose the whys and wherefores. It is the detail that intrigues me.
I like the fragments, the hints, the give-away tonal nuances of a voice, a flicker of unconscious body movement, the partial view that alludes to so much more. And so it is in the aftermath of Christchurch's 7.1 earthquake. The big picture is dramatic, gut-wrenching, profoundly moving and for many, life-changing; but on the few occasions when I have stepped outside my own home to survey some of the earthquake damage, it has been the small things that have moved me most.
What about that set of artist's pastels cast amongst the rubble - who did they belong to? What had they been used for? And that little curl of coloured party ribbon - that surely alludes to much happier times. I was drawn to the lone white plastic jug casually tossed among the broken bricks and I wondered what an article like that might say about the human race if it were dug up a hundred years from now.
I marvelled at two Japanese prints still hanging happily on 'dismembered' walls; and I fretted for the people citywide, whose offices and homes had been torn asunder to expose their private business to the world - someone's day to day movements marked on a wall calendar, their important lists and papers suddenly open to public gaze. A coloured parrot cast on its back among the rubble seemed like a garrish, slightly comical metaphor for the helplessness that most people in the city have felt at some stage during days riddled with after-shocks.
As I poked about on the edge of piles of rubble last Saturday I couldn't help feeling caught in the middle - between a slightly voyueristic urge to capture those details and a desire to respect some anonymous earthquake victim's privacy. My curiosity won out. By now, these little shreds of lives, these tiny fragments of someone's home or office, will be gone - clamped between the enormous steel jaws of a wrecker's crane, dumped into a lorry and distintegrated (except maybe the plastic jug - they never break when you want them to), gone forever. No loss you may think, and certainly that's true from a material point of view, but any one of the small things shown here may have carried a meaning, a history, a special significance that far exceeded any material worth. Who knows what stories they could all tell about their owners? And where are those owners now? Where are they living? How are they coping? And what of their futures?
Saturday, September 11, 2010
This morning I went into the city to check on restaurants - those still standing, those likely to be out of business, as I launch into the Christchurch restaurant chapter of the travel guide I am currently writing (Frommers New Zealand Day by Day 1st Edition). I found a strange, haunting beauty in unexpected places as demolition crews continue to work through the weekend. People gathered on corners chatting to soldiers and police; others stood in awe as huge mechanical teeth chewed their way through the tattered shreds of city buildings; still more came to take photographs. People of all nationalities - tourists many of them - finding 'new attractions' in places they would never even considered as they stamped their passports and boarded a plane for Christchurch. For me, the 'little beauties' came with jarring reminders that we, the humans of this place, are mere 'specks of dust.' We and all our fripperies, can be disposed of in a few seconds of angry, unpredictable upheaval. So many things, like this lone chair, a statement of vulnerability and pointless excess all at once. A touching reminder too, that although no lives were lost in the physical sense, many have been torn asunder at an economic and emotional level. It is a surreal experience to drive through your city and find the streets filled with shipping containers; lanes closed, red and orange 'disaster' tapes coming loose and floating across the roads and footpaths; piles of torn bricks piled neatly on sidewalks - and some not so neatly.
I have always found a strange and compelling beauty in machinery and building sites - anyone visiting this blog regularly will know my odd compulsion to photograph cranes; but today it was a photographic exercise laced with introspection and a reflective questioning of values, life, tragedy and people's ability to sustain blow after blow and simply keep on. As you can see from these images, it's a moving business - in every sense of the word.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Thursday, September 9, 2010
When I visited this crazy earthquake-tortured bridge a couple of blocks from my house on Monday, I had to wait my turn to take photos. It was already 'famous' by then - photographed in the early hours of Saturday morning just after the 7.1 earthquake and posted on the Internet. I've cycled over this pedestrian-cycleway hundreds of time and as I look at it now, I still can't quite grasp the enormity of what has happened in Christchurch over the last six days. Maybe we would have been able to grapple with things better if Nature had given us just one earthquake. Nature of course, isn't that straightforward - as has been made patently clear - and six days on the city is still trying to cope with continual after-shocks. Some reports say there have been over 120. Frankly, my nerves are now so frayed I'll believe anything. Yesterday - a little 'after the event' I'll concede - I put a mattress underneath my dining room table. It was to be a safe retreat prompted by yesterday's massive after-shock that seemed almost as bad as the first quake (in my head). I snuggled in for an afternoon nap and felt like a kid in a playhouse, at least until another after-shock came along and wobbled everything from the ground up. As I lay there, writing ridiculous things on the bottom of my solid rimu table, I wondered if anyone would ever get to read them. It was a silly distraction at a time when most of Christchurch is in dire need of 'silly distractions.' I slept through last night's after-shocks and so far today, things seem solid and sturdy again. They're not of course - and may not be for weeks - but I am forcing myself to believe that all will now be well. Clinging to tiny strands of normality will get me and hundreds of thousands of others, through.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Monday, September 6, 2010
When a 7.1 earthquake struck Christchurch on Saturday, September 4th at 4.35am, I had just woken and was about to get up and start writing. Instead, within seconds, I found myself clinging to a door frame, terrified, and sure my house was about to fall around me. It didn't. I was one of the lucky ones in that sense. That thought has been driven home in the days since as I have watched the drama unfolding on television.
Today I set foot outside for the first time in 6 days - this because I am in the middle of writing a travel guide manuscript and am 'chained to my computer' and also, if I'm truly honest, because I have been too terrified to leave the house - despite the fact that it has been rocked senseless by after-shocks now too numerous to count. My short hour's drive around the eastern suburbs near where I live - the Avonside-Wainoni area - has been a sobering business and of all the devastation, it is the torn up roads and this, the Avon River, near Wainoni, that I found most disturbing.
Somehow you half expect buildings and other man-made structures to tumble in an earthquake but I for one, did not expect to see the ground spurting little volcanoes of sand and water. And I certainly did not ever think I would see a river disgorged of its water, its bed twisted and bulging like some giant muddy abcess. I've always felt a deep affinity to the landscape, an abiding certainty about its permanence and solidity. Naive perhaps, given that New Zealand is riddled with earthquake faults and geothermal/volcanic activity; but I've never had cause to doubt it - until now. And that's what I find most frightening. A certainty has been challenged and disproved and I no longer feel safe.
That's what haunts me now. Not the broken houses, the shattered glass, the fallen walls.
But this tortured river bed.